So you did it! You finally did it! You made plans and followed through with them and after all of your hard work you finally did everything and moved to Japan! Congratulations, you have now joined countless of other expats around Japan who also shared the same vision of coming to Japan and living here to wether travel and experience the culture or to teach English or whatever your reason for coming to Japan is.
I have been living here in Japan for over a year here already and I can say from personal experience that Japan tends to be more expensive than the United States, specially if you are coming from smaller cities where the cost of living is not as expensive as cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Miami for example.
After spending time and saving your money to the point where you finally make it a reality to travel and live in Japan, your mindset suddenly switches on ways to make all of the money you saved up money last, and not only that but to create a way where saving up money would be possible.
So how have I cut down costs while living in Japan enough to save money?
Out of all of your costs while living in Japan this will probably your biggest expense of all, so starting to plan to save money starting is really a smart way to begin!
To begin with, if you look online for advise or information on this a lot of people will recommend a gaijin-house or a share house which will include everything under one bill, and the opportunity to meet other foreigners in the same situation which makes meeting people a lot easier. The cost of this mostly depends of where in Japan you choose to live, but from my own experience this effortless and simple living choice tends to be more expensive compared to a more involved and intricate apartment application.
More information on renting in Japan: click here.
My advise on what to rent is a room you will often see referred to as a 1K (1 room and a kitchen including a shower and a toilet. The price you pay really depends on many factors such as the city you live in and how close to the center of the city you want to live in but if you sacrifice not living in the middle of downtown and live a few subway stations away this can potentially save you a lot of yen! For me, I live 15 minutes by bike from the center of the city (Sapporo) and 4 stops away by subway, and I pay less than $200USD in rent a month, including bills the grand total becomes around $300 USD. Of course a city like Tokyo would be more expensive but your salary would also be a bit higher to match the cost of living.
Japan has four very different seasons a year and your bills tend to fluctuate as the weather changes, for example if you use gas heating, or gas to heat your water, winter can be an expensive time of year. Specially if you are like me and live in the North of Japan where heating is mandatory to stay alive! Some nights in winter the temperature can drop to -15 degrees Celsius!
Photo : mako on Flickr
A good way to lower your gas bill in Japan is not to use a gas heater at all! If you don’t live in Hokkaido this is pretty easy to do just in more layers, and if necessary get a small 1000W electric heater! Electricity is cheaper than gas remember that! Another way to lower you gas bill is to lower the temperature in which you shower! I have noticed that in winter I set the temperature of my shower to temperatures between 43-44 degrees Celsius while in Summer I use the minimum 37 degrees or turn it off completely and noticed my gas bill dropped a whopping 50% just by lowering it! Showering without the heater in winter can be near impossible so I suggest to lower the temperature enough where you can shower comfortably without having your body feel numb but in summer a cold shower is good for you! A cold shower wakes you up, refreshes you, and makes you shower quicker! Which leads me to saving on the water bill!
To save money on the your water bill is probably the hardest one of all because regardless of the season the amount of water you use tends to be the same throughout the whole year! My suggestion would be to take a minute less in the shower everyday. Specially for us who love a hot, and long shower just timing your shower times and showering for one minute less will really make a significant impact to the money you can save over time.
The other utility you have to pay in Japan is electricity. I find electricity to be the cheapest out of all the bills. Which is why if you have an appliance that runs on gas or water (maybe??) it’s always a good idea to find a smaller one that is electric; which will usually only be an electric heater or a fan.
Great, you are now done with one of the hardest things of renting a place of your very own in Japan. Next comes filling your apartment with appliances such as a stove, fridge, washing machine, fan, electric heater as the most basic, anything else can be considered as basic.
Before you plan to get your money and go to the nearest shopping center to buy appliances STOP!!! As I mentioned before Japan tends to be more expensive than countries like the United States and even Europe in some cases. The way to avoid pay such high prices for things so simple is to rent them!
Japan has many rental services which will let you rent things like your fridge, washing machine, stove, television and mostly anything else and let you pay per month or per year. I recommend paying the upfront year cost as it is always cheaper than paying per month, and even this is cheaper than buying a brand new fridge for example!
If you wish to stay longer than a year in Japan no worries you can specify how long you wish to rent for or even extend it at the end of your rental agreement.
These rental items tend to be used but always come in a good condition, you won’t receive something scratched up or broken. From my experience everything look and worked just like new! The price also includes shipping, and installation. This is a good thing because if you were to buy a fridge for example at the store you would then have to pay a shipping fee for your apartment and potentially more to have it properly installed into your apartment.
If you prefer not to rent but insist on buying your own appliances, I recommend to check out any of Japan’s famous recycle shops, and discount shops. In these shops you will find a whole variety of second hand goods which come at a substantially cheaper price than their brand new counterparts.
Please remember when buying at a second hand shop in Japan for bigger items, if you don’t own a car you will have to pay shipping fees to your apartment!
Let’s face it : we all have to eat to stay alive. It is the cost of living. You can certainly eat less and save money but that’t not healthy and I don’t recommend it!
We all love convenience stores but getting your groceries from a convenience store is more expensive than going to a supermarket and buying the same items you were going to buy and probably for half the price.
I recommend to cut down on eating and drinking out and learning to cook! Learning to cook your own Japanese food is fun and very rewarding once you master the art of Japanese cuisine! You also have the flexibility of controlling the ingredients and quantities you use making the meal a whole lot healthier and cheaper for you!
Supermarkets also tend to have a lot of discounts at certain times in the day or even certain days of the weeks. A store throughout Japan like AEON tends to be cheapest on Tuesdays with discounts throughout the week are certain times usually in the morning.
Remember : stay away from restaurant and convenience stores!
Ahh, the subway… Probably one of the easiest to get around your city in Japan. When I first came to Japan I was fascinated with the subways system because coming from Miami there is no such thing as subways. In Miami you either have a car or you can’t go anywhere. So when I came to Japan I would take the subway everywhere which turned out to be pretty expensive after some time the small fee you pay adds up!
The cheapest way of course anywhere you are in the world is to walk to your destination but this isn’t time efficient and in a hot summer day you don’t want to walk across the city to work and get to the office all sweaty.
I recommend buying a bicycle. A bicycle can be bought cheaply online, or in used bicycles shops or in second hand shops. A used bike can go around for as cheap for $50 and it will be good enough. Of course anything newer or fancier tends to drive up the price.
In summer riding your bike can be hot but trust me you get used to it and after you get better and faster. A great way to stay healthy!
If you made it this far you are a penny pinching pro! You are probably enjoying the steady growth of your Japanese bank account, which you can use to travel and many other things!
The last part includes purchasing random things you may need around the house or just gadgets, computers, cameras, or anything you would normally purchase at a store.
Photo : Toshihiro Gamo on Flickr
For anything simple such as cups, plates, decorations, I recommend on visiting one of Japanese many 100 yen shops. They are filled with anything and everything for the low price of just one coin. It is hard to really narrow down what you can find because there is just so much what you can find. But you can click here for more information!
For bigger things for example a brand new camera, TV, laptop, accessories, or anything really. Buying online is the best thing to do. I have purchased countless goods from online retailers for a substantially cheaper price compared to a regular retail store. Do your research before you go out anything on the internet is cheaper. If you have family in America you can go as far as to ordering to your family’s or friend’s house in America and having it shipped to Japan in many cases even that is cheaper than purchasing in an actual store. The only drawback is the time it takes to get it shipped and finally arrive at your apartment but the savings are worth it at most you will only have to wait 2-3 weeks!
Well, I hope this helps you see the bigger picture and understand just because you are in Japan and the cost of living is higher doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to live the dream.